Fostering the Sultan of Swat

Babe_RuthI was an avid baseball fan as a kid.  I remember when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and my mom would leave my brothers and I in the public library while she ran errands.  I remember those times as formative years, where I would learn much of what I knew about the great baseball players in history.  I would immediately go to the section where I knew the baseball history books were.

That is where I learned about Babe Ruth.

Babe Ruth was a foster kid.  He was placed in foster care at age 7.  While in foster care, he learned to play baseball, and of course we know what happened next.  He grew up to be a legend, one of the greatest baseball players ever, hitting over 700 home runs and going down as the greatest Yankee.  Many will remember that Yankee stadium was called the house that Ruth built.

What is interesting is that in most books that tell his story, very little is told about those years.  What most books say was simply that he was a rough kid, and lived in a reformatory.  But I do wonder what allowed George Herman Ruth to survive those times, and what allowed him to succeed in life where others did not.  It seems to me that the Babe was able to succeed because of baseball.  I mean, he was able to find something he was good at, that lifted him out of his situation.  I suspect that those around him in his care recognized his potential, and encouraged it.  How different would his life had been if he had not had that encouragement, or if he had been placed in a reformatory where baseball was not played.

I guess my point is how fragile we really are as humans.  No matter how much talent we have buried deep inside of us, we just cannot do it alone.  We can all look back into our childhood and remember that one person, one event, one season in our lives where our abilities were brought out of us.  How different would our lives be if that didn’t happen, of if for some reason, we failed to take the opportunity when it was presented.

I see foster parents today as fulfilling that role.  We are the spark that can either ignite a child, or extinguish them.  It is a big responsibility that God has placed on us.  Don’t get me wrong.  A Babe Ruth may only come around once in a lifetime.  But maybe we have the next president, or singer, policemen or fireman in our home.  Whatever this child may become, it is us that can make the difference in their lives.

I pray that God gives us the time, strength, and wisdom to pour out His love and His plan for the life of this little child.

I also pray for those souls who don’t have someone in their lives to fulfill this role.  May His love and guidance bring them out of their present situation.

Play ball!

 

Are you doing what you wanted to do when you grew up?

Baseball_kidToday I have been thinking about what people’s lives are compared to what they wanted it to be as children.

When we are kids, we are always asked that question.  What do you want to be when you grow up?  If you listen to children, you will usually hear things like cowboy, astronaut, doctor, sports athlete, or fireman.  Those are all wonderful career choices.  As children grow, however, those choices change.  Our likes and dislikes, as well as our aptitude in different skills dictate what we eventually do when we grow.  Even more than that, are the life circumstances during our early years that often decide what we eventually choose to do with our lives.

 

But the most important decision maker in my mind is God’s plan for our life, combined with our free will to choose or not choose that plan.

I started out wanting to be a professional baseball player.  I was an avid fan as a child.  I couldn’t wait to get home from school so I could grab my glove and ball and go outside to play.  I knew all of the stats for my favorite players.  Being a Yankee fan, I knew every player on the team, the lineup, pitching rotation, and pretty much everything else that mattered about the team.  I just knew that eventually, I would be a Yankee too.

But life changed.

As I grew older, I realized that my skill level just wasn’t there.  Sure I could keep up with my team members in the league I played in.  And I was generally better than the average neighborhood kid.  But once I got to high school, I realized that my dreams of playing in the big leagues was just that – a dream.

So my interests changed.  They changed several times.  Eventually I ended up in my current career.  It is a career I absolutely love.  I am one of those people that love what they do.  I enjoy working.  And I believe it was God’s plan that I end up doing what I do.  I believe that throughout my life, he was shaping me, molding me, and making me into the man I am today.

But what about those people in the world that have fallen?

What about my little one’s mom?  I cannot imagine that when she was young, she wanted to grow up and have her children turned over to the state.  I am sure that as an innocent child, she wanted for herself a wonderful life, a wonderful upbringing, a wonderful career.  I am also convinced that God also wanted that for her.  I am even more convinced that God’s love has not changed, and that He continues to want that for her.

So today I wonder if it is God’s plan all along for some to fall?  Did God want my little one to be taken from her mom all along? No I don’t believe so.  I believe God want us to bear children, then protect them and keep them safe, raising them to honor Him.  I think it is our free will and the human race’s fall from grace that causes us to do things that do not honor Him.  We live in a fallen world, a world that contain great good, and also great evil. Because of the grace of God, my wife and I went one way, and my little one’s bio family another.

As our little one grows into a woman, I pray that her dream about what she wants to do when she grows up, combined with her free will, and God’s plan for her life, results in a positive and enriching life that honors God always.

What did you want to do when you grew up?

What are you doing now?

Good Times…

Clank!

Thump!

Where did that noise come from? Am I dreaming it? My eyes open, as another loud noise is coming from somewhere in our bedroom. As the rays from the sun pierce through the second story window of our apartment, I can barely make out my older brother, naked except for his white underwear only partially covering his body, his hands clearly above his head and holding my G.I Joe. As I struggle to understand what he is about to do, I stand to attention, and then…

Kerplunk!

My G.I. Joe is hurled out of the window. I can almost hear Joe yell “Hoooohaaaw”, his Kung-Fu grip flapping in the wind as he meets his demise. As I look down, his lifeless body rests on the aluminum patio roof that covers much of the back yard behind our apartment. As I wipe the sleep from my eyes, I can see our lawn darts, a Tonka truck fire engine, and a few other toys on the metal roof that have apparently also met their doom. Interestingly enough, some are faded, as they have been there quite some time, remnants of our previous attempts at explaining gravity from a child’s perspective.

Mom is yelling at us now. She is making breakfast – cafe con leche and toast. Yes that is right, we drank coffee as children. If we had been born in today’s world, my parents would have been scorned for this practice. In fact, I have no doubt that we would have been labeled ADHD, or something far worse. There were four of us, all boys, with only 5 years difference between the oldest and the youngest. I never understood back then why only certain people dared to visit us on a regular basis. I do now, and I forgive you all.

We quickly eat our breakfast. I say quickly because the breakfast table at our home was like watching an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom – survival of the fittest. The oldest brother would usually rip through his food first, flesh and spit flying everywhere as he devoured every crumb on his plate, only to hover over mine like a vulture. Picture me with arms covering my plate, head only a couple inches from my food, protecting my portion from all invaders. Our younger brothers of course would soon suffer the consequences of being born too late, as my older brother and I descended upon them, forcing them to cry out in vain, to no avail.

Muuuhaha!

It is Saturday. No school. Party time time for us, but a mom’s worst nightmare. She has much to do, and no way to do it with four wild animals roaming through the house. What to do? Well, like every Saturday, she hands my brother and I two bucks each and kicks us out of the house. We are told not to show up until sundown. The two younger urchins will be picked up by grandma soon, freeing mom to clean the house, and maybe even allowing for some shopping. So my brother and I hang outside for a bit in the morning before heading off to the local library. It’s winter and as we step into our New Jersey neighborhood, we are greeted by our friend mister snow, and that can only mean one thing for us.

Snow Fight!

In the front of our apartment building the landlord constructed a wall made of cinder blocks, about 4 feet high, almost as if he knew it would be a perfect staging location for snow balls. We pick our sides, and start to construct our projectiles. Maybe you are unaware of the proper way of constructing snow balls. Let me explain. Snow does not stick to itself if it is too fresh. However, once it begins to melt a little, forming ice, it makes perfect, hard balls that not only hold their shape, but hurt like heck. Please remember to avoid the yellow snow. If you don’t know why, I won’t be revealing it in this article.

We spend about 5 minutes lining up our weapons along our side of the wall. When we are ready, it is on! The front yard transforms itself into a scene from Edward Scissorhands, snow flying through the air, as if we are captives in a snow globe that someone just shook up and turned over, to marvel at its beauty. Minutes of preparation turns into a furious display of warfare that feels much longer than the minute or so it takes us to unleash our fury. This goes on for awhile as we stop to reload over and over. The interesting thing is how we both seemed to follow some unwritten snow fighting rule that forbids us from using guerrilla tactics and running over and attacking up close, negating the use of the wall as cover.

Snow fights usually make us hungry. When we get hungry on a Saturday, there is only one place we go. Of course mom knew this, which is why she gave us just enough money for a slice of pizza and a soda. We don’t walk to the pizza place, we run to the pizza place. It is a small place, right around the corner from our home. The pizza guy knows us very well. We are there quite often. Funny thing is I don’t remember eating anything else there except a slice and a soda, although I am sure they had other items. We are in heaven. It is New York style pizza, piping hot. I always end up burning the roof of my mouth, since I never wait for it to cool down before eating it. As a result, the first bite ends up removing much of the cheese from the slice, creating quite a mess. I don’t care. It’s pizza on a Saturday with my brother. What could be better than this?

What could be better? I’ll tell you what – the chess tournament at the library, that’s what. Oh, you have never experienced this? Well let me tell you, it was quite exciting. Our local library was a hub of activity back then. This was before the Internet, so kids actually had to go somewhere to read books. It was called a library. It was the best places in town. Not only did we read actual books, but they had games – Monopoly, Parcheesi, Chutes and Ladders. The most amazing part of this enchanted fun palace was – it was free. The city gladly provided this service to its residents. Yes I know, we still have libraries, it’s just that today nobody goes there.

So today was the big Chess tournament. They had it every year, and anyone could enter. I not only entered the tournament the first day it was announced, but I read every Chess book in the library. By the time tournament day had come, I was absolutely sure no one would beat me. Oh yeah, I know the defending Champion was 17 and I was only 8. I didn’t care. I was sure he had not been as diligent as I in studying the game. He was probably resting on his laurels from last year’s win, and had no idea the defeat that awaited him. I listened anxiously as the game assignments were read. Wouldn’t you know it, I was slotted to play first, and against none other than the defending champion. Someone must have told the officials how much I had studied. That must be it. They knew I was the one to watch out for this year, and they wanted to see my skills right at the beginning.

My game lasted a total of 3 minutes, and I lost in 3 moves.

No I am not kidding. What a dumb game, I thought. I would spend the rest of my younger years playing a much easier game – baseball.

Ok here’s the truth. I don’t think all these events happened on the same day. I am in my mid forties and my memory is fading. But all these events are true events, probably happening on different days. I was so blessed to have such an innocent life. Much of my younger years were spent very much like the one depicted here. We didn’t worry about the things most kids have to worry about today. We were just – well – kids. We lived in a world of imagination, a world were everything was a game. We didn’t think about our future. We lived for today.

Good times…

Playoffs!

baseballIt was a Saturday like any other. No school, so I got up a little later. Of course, for a 13 year old, that meant 9 AM instead of 6 AM. After dressing and the obligatory brushing of teeth, I stroll into the kitchen. Mami has cafe con leche ready, along with some toasted Cuban bread. Yeah, Cubans in Miami feed their kids coffee. I am not sure if that contributed to our hyper activity. This is 1980, so ADHD has not become the popular diagnosis for hyper active kids yet. We are just considered annoying young boys. Nothing a day of playing outside won’t fix. As I go to my room to grab my baseball and glove, the realization that today is not a regular Saturday starts to reach my brain.

Playoffs!

I was a baseball fanatic as a kid, and as such, was on a Koury League team, our version of Little League in Miami. Our team was in the playoffs that year. I can’t tell you I was the star on the team. I was small for my age, and I was struggling to learn to hit a fastball. I was a decent fielder, and I was progressing as a hitter though. Papi apparently had aspirations of having a Major League baseball player for a son, so he was very involved. I fondly remember seeing him at practice and at games, cheering me on. He had coached little league back in New Jersey, and even helped out with my current team as well. Of course Mami never missed a game. Those years were instrumental in cementing my relationship with both of them.

So in his attempt to help me reach my dream of baseball stardom, Papi had heard of the Charlie Lau batting method. Baseball fans will surely remember George Brett, the star third baseman for the Kansas City Royals. Many will remember his chase of Ted Williams .400 batting average that one year, and the many thrills he gave us during his career. Well, he made the Charlie Lau method famous. It was a method that used the body’s own momentum, and a transfer of weight between the batter’s back and front feet to propel him through the ball. Papi took me to a local batting instructor who taught this method.

The change was pretty significant, not so much because I was suddenly transformed into a superstar, but because of the confidence it gave me. I had a new weapon at my disposal, one that none of the other kids on the team had, and the encouragement I received from Papi and the instructor went a long way. Suddenly I was connecting bat with ball in practice much more frequently, and best of all, the ball was flying off the bat. Where most of my hits had been harmless ground balls, I was now consistently hitting line drives into the outfield.

Game time!

The game was pretty exciting, going back and forth, no team having the lead for very long. It was the second to last inning and we were behind 4-2. We quickly get two hits, putting men on first and second. Suddenly a quiet ballpark comes alive. We are all standing in the dugout now, unable to contain our excitement. You can feel the energy in the ball park, as the chatter in the bleachers begins to build, parents and fans cheering on their family and friends. We have a chance to win this one now if we keep it going, but we are up against arguably the best pitcher in the league. This kid looks 2 or 3 years older than the rest of us, and I can swear he throws illegal pitches, since every ball seems to have a break in it, which is not allowed in this league. The next batter strikes out, and our hearts deflate. I am now on deck, as the next batter goes to the plate, hoping to be the one to get us back in this game.

“Strike one!”

“Strike two.”

“You’re out!”

Wonderful. This is not the way I had planned it. With two outs and the game on the line, we will have to see what Charlie Lau can do for me. Everyone is cheering me on. I am shaking like a leaf, and I am sure it shows as I move to the plate. The pitcher looks huge. Images of David and Goliath permeate my brain. The coach, probably noticing I am white as a ghost, calls time and calls me to over to talk.

“Ok kid, relax! You can do this. Remember this.. Keep your eye on the ball, and wait for for your pitch. No need to swing at everything. Just meet the ball with the bat ok?”

Henry – he was a great coach. He never yelled, and was never negative. He always had a way of putting me at ease and instilling confidence in me. I step in to the batters box, curling into my new batting position, confident I can make this happen. I am repeating in my head, “Wait for your pitch. Wait for your pitch…” The pitch is thrown, and it is right down the middle, no break in sight. A fastball. I can hear it sizzle as it flies towards the plate. It all slows down now as I unwind my swing. Back foot transfers to front foot, bat follows body, eye follows ball and then…

Crack!

The ball flies off the bat, directly over the pitcher’s head. The ball reaches the outfield before I even get a chance to run. The runners on first and second were moving with the pitch, and take advantage. Two runners score, and I stop on second.

We are tied 4-4!

I can see Mami screaming, Papi with a huge smile on his face, applauding. My teammates are jumping up and down in the dugout, some of them jumping on the runners as they cross the plate. I am of course serious as a heart attack. I can’t let anyone know that I think this is the absolute best moment of my short life.

“Stay serious John.” I tell myself “ It’s no big deal. Just a normal day at the park for George Brett, No different for you.”

We later scored again, winning the game.

We lost the playoffs that year. But that night – I went home a superstar.